Changing Minds

Alonzo Mitchell III's city birthday party, Ohio Homecoming, heaps love on Cleveland.

Cleveland's birthday is July 22. That day has gone by, year after year, and you never even sent a card.

A card won't cut it with Alonzo Mitchell III. He's calling on all of Cleveland to help him celebrate by planning a four-day birthday party that he expects will find upward of 30,000 people converging in the city they love.

It's called Ohio Homecoming, and it's Mitchell's brainchild. This second-annual event, which will run July 20-23, is a mix of looking forward, giving back and having fun. The celebration includes a 24-hour day of service at Martin Luther King High School, an entrepreneurship fair at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and Great Lakes Science Center and a concert on docks 28 and 30 overlooking the lake.

"We said, 'Let's throw a festival,' but first we had to change minds," says Mitchell, 30. "Until you get into people's heads that this is a great place, nothing you do is going to matter."

"We" is a diverse mix of young Clevelanders willing to put money and time behind Mitchell's mission. These locals, united in rebellion against those who bash Cleveland, call their group "The Movement."

"It's not just The Movement, it's [Mitchell's] character," says Tony Madalone, owner of Fresh Brewed Tees and Ohio Homecoming co-director. "From our first meeting, I said, 'I'm going to work with you.' "

It's easy to see why Madalone and others willingly drop what they're doing to follow him. Mitchell's smile precedes him in a room, propelled by an infectious enthusiasm for the city where he was born and raised. Clad in an "I am The Movement" T-shirt, he launches into a moving discourse on the role Ohio Homecoming has to play in Cleveland's revitalization.

"I told people I was from Cleveland, and they said, 'Ugh,' " recalls Mitchell, who previously lived in Washington, D.C. "I started thinking, What's so wrong with Cleveland? Why aren't we doing better? So I decided I was coming home."

Ohio Homecoming was the first project Mitchell started after his return — last year's event drew about 20,000 — but it won't be the last. He's been named to the Columbus Bicentennial Committee to work on launching an Ohio Homecoming event in Columbus for its 200th birthday next July. He foresees a future in which Ohio Homecoming events are held in each of Ohio's major cities.

For now, he has ambitious plans for next year's Cleveland event (the city will turn 216, get it?) that include renting out Burke Lakefront Airport for the entire four-day party. He's also planning what he calls the Village Project, which he describes vaguely as using Cleveland's vacant properties to unite members of The Movement in one spot.

"I feel like I know the most talented 50 people in the city," he says, referring to his Ohio Homecoming team. "If I can get them excited about this, they'll be excited about the next thing."

For his day job, Mitchell technically runs his own marketing firm — named Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen, or CMS, after the mantra of Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point — but this time of year, he works full time on Ohio Homecoming. And he's evasive about where he lives; he's a native of Bedford Heights but now says he lives "around."

What compels him to be the driving force behind The Movement?

"In this day and age, we realize no one person, not even Superman, could come into Cleveland and save it. ... It's going to take a bunch of us to come together and do it," he says. "When I die, this is where they're gonna leave my bones."

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